Cava fights back

07 January, 2016

That’s where Raventós i Blanc is an interesting case. Pepe Raventós is fiercely committed to quality and identity and left the cava DO to set up Conca del Ríu Anoia. His latest blanc de noirs, Textures de Pedra, is named after the stony soils. A further group of traditional method producers has set up Clássic Penedès, equally with tighter regulations on quality.

HISTORY

This is all about the wine trade needing to tell a story to sell a wine. With a few noble exceptions, prosecco doesn’t have a story, but it has the glamour of Brand Italy behind it. Cava has plenty of stories but up until now has not felt the need or had the confidence to tell them. With a strong domestic market, Spanish consumers knew what their cava was all about. In the cold world of export, that education is lacking.

Cava has history and should flaunt it. Codorníu likes to say it has been in the business since 1551, even if Raventós claims to be half a century older. Says Mike Damian, managing director of Freixenet UK: “All our cavas tell a story. At the premium end Reserva Real celebrates the king’s visit to the winery in 1887. Casa Sala Brut Nature Gran Reserva is traditionally produced at the old villa where the Freixenet story began.” Vilarnau dates its estate back to the 12th century.

There are stories to tell about families too. Take Juvé y Camps, which recently relaunched in the UK and whose hilltop winery has terrific views of the mystic jagged mountain of Montserrat. Or Vallformosa, or the organic Castellroig.

WINE QUALITY

Improve the wine and the customers will come back – though given the damage to cava’s reputation that will take work. At cava’s second largest producer, Codorníu, winemaker Bruno Colomer and his team can convince the incredulous. Their experimentation has culminated in the super-premium Gran Cru project. Importantly, that learning is now cascading down to improve the winemaking of the mainstream brands, and is apparent in the quality of the recently launched Cuvée Barcelona.

Improving wine quality starts in the vineyard. Producers are seeking out cooler inland sites at higher altitudes. They are becoming expert at managing picking times. Time spent on lees is also being considered more carefully.  At the top end, all producers are far exceeding the minimum requirements for cava. 

In Penedès – the focus in any discussion of cava – there has been a return to the classic varieties of Xarel.lo, Parellada and Macabeo. Nowhere else in the world makes sparkling wine with these varieties. The first one – pronounced sharell–oh – is undergoing a renaissance with producers returning to single varietal Xarel.lo cavas and still wines. While the arrival of Chardonnay made a difference to many cavas, sharpening them up, improving the acidity, the latest Xarel.los prove that the local varieties can do it all.

The latest figures show that the decline in cava sales has slowed. Pete Fairclough, brand manager at Kingsland Drinks, which is involved in both cava (including Conde de Caralt) and prosecco, suggests this may be a result of the decline in prosecco supply. A bonus is the consequent rise in prices. As a result of this “we see great potential for growth in the on-trade and off-trade”.

Traditionally, mainstream cava – and most particularly Freixenet with its Christmas advertising, as long-awaited as James Bond or Waitrose Christmas ads – relied on plenty of expensive, above-the-line marketing.

Now’s the time to look beyond them to the niche categories, with lots of specialist interest to sommeliers and independents. 

Keywords: cava, prosecco




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Joe Bates

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In Cannes last month as I dashed around from stand to stand and from interview to interview amid a whirl of product launches and cocktail parties, I heard one question asked over and over again.

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